FBI used death row inmate in search for remains
FBI agents took the unusual step of temporarily letting a federal death row inmate out of his cell so he could help with the search for the body of one of the two women he killed.
Chadrick Evan Fulks, 36, was taken from the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., to West Virginia in March to help with the search for the remains of 19-year-old Samantha Nicole Burns, according to a sealed order obtained by The Associated Press.
In a letter to The Associated Press, Fulks confirmed his role in the search for the Marshall University student last seen in 2002. He said he showed agents the area where Burns was buried during his and fellow inmate Brandon Basham’s 17-day crime spree after escaping the Hopkins County Jail in western Kentucky in 2002.
The two-page order signed by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers in Huntington, W.Va., allowed the FBI to take custody of Fulks for 18 hours between March 25 and April 12. Federal and state investigators conducted a search for Burns’ remains on land near train tracks and an intersection near West Virginia 75. It’s a rural area near where Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio meet.
Fulks sent The AP a copy of the sealed order along with a nine-page letter in which he says he helped the FBI because he feels remorse for the slayings.
Burns, of West Hamlin, W.Va., disappeared after telephoning her mother in November 2002 to tell her she was leaving the mall near Huntington, W.Va. and heading home to West Hamlin, about 15 miles away. Burns never reached home. The disappearance set off a massive manhunt that led to her burned-out vehicle about 15 minutes south of Huntington, W.Va. Her body has never been located. Fulks and Basham pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder and were sentenced to life in prison.
Messages left for the attorneys for Burns’ family were not returned. Because of the partial government shutdown, federal prosecutors in West Virginia declined to comment on the case. Messages left for West Virginia State Police were not immediately returned.
It was unclear how close authorities were to finding Burns’ remains on Wednesday or what became of the search in March.
Fulks and the 32-year-old Basham were sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing 44-year-old Alice Donovan of Galivants Ferry, S.C., in December 2002. Donovan disappeared from a Wal-Mart parking lot in Conway, S.C. Her remains were found in 2009.
“I’ve worked with both the Donovan and Burns family to recover their loved ones,” Fulks said.
Charlie Rose, who teaches criminal law at Stetson University Law School in Gulfport, Fla., said law enforcement agencies frequently ask inmates for information about unsolved crimes, but that it’s unusual to take them out of their cells.
Rose said bringing an inmate back to a crime scene could be advantageous if seeing the terrain and landmarks help to refresh his memory.
Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles, agreed that it’s a big deal to expend the resources needed to keep a death row inmate secure during a search.
“It obviously is something you don’t see all the time,” Levenson said. “Leaving death row for any purpose is highly unusual.”
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Fulks’ latest appeal Monday. Basham’s appeal is pending. In the letter, Fulks, of West Hamlin, W.Va., asked for nothing from prosecutors in return for his assistance, foresaw the ruling and predicted he will be executed soon.
“My life ended in 2002, sir, and next year I’ll begin a new journey when I’m releaved of this hell hole,” Fulks wrote.
Fulks and Basham were cellmates at the Hopkins County Jail in Madisonville, Ky., in 2002 where they were held on armed robbery charges. They were left in the jail’s recreation yard unsupervised for about 90 minutes and security cameras weren’t in their normal positions on the day they escaped.
Fulks and Basham escaped through a fence around the recreation yard and fled initially to Indiana. From there, the pair went to West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where the run ended.
“I do wish that I would’ve stayed in jail and faced those charges because these 2 women, Alice Donovan and Samantha Burns, would be alive today,” Fulks wrote.
The families of Burns and Donovan settled a lawsuit with the jail in 2008 for an undisclosed amount. Fulks and Basham were dismissed from the lawsuit.
Fulks said helping the FBI in the search for Burns’ remains will be one of two ways he’ll leave death row. The other, Fulks said: “Will be in the back of a hearse.”
Associated Press writer Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va., contributed to this report.